54.45 and 13.11 – John, Sarah, Thomas and Barker Ackroyd

This grave story will straddle two graves, but the background for John is already told partly at S6.6 and 13.12, and the Ackroyd family extends well beyond just those two graves as well…for now, though, it’s easier to combine these two stones into one story.

John, Sarah and children are on the stone on the left

John Ackroyd’s background is well known so first let’s start with his wife. Sarah Whitehead was born in 1851 to Thomas and Patience (Bentley) Whitehead, who by this time had been married for nine years (and having children together for even longer, although we digress). Patience was literally the girl next door, with her father living in the next property along on the 1851 Census. Sarah would be the second to last baby born to this marriage; Thomas died a year later at the age of 42, and Patience was left a widow with six children aged 11 and younger. An unenviable position. 1861 and 1871 saw the family moving around, and all hands on deck working. In 1861 the only family member not working was the youngest child, Hitchen, who had been born shortly after Thomas died – at that point 10 year old Sarah was working in a cotton mill and the family were at Stoneswood Bottom. 1871 found them at George Street and John Ackroyd at Brook Street, not far from each other at all. By July they were married, having tied the knot at Eastwood Congregational.

Their very first child, Thomas, was born in 1872. He was also the first child they lost; he died in 1876 aged 3 years and 11 months, as his stone states, and he is the sole burial at the back of the graveyard in 54.45. However…much like some other graves in this yard, he gets a second mention on the stone at 13.11. There his age is upgraded to 4.

John had been a warp sizer all his life, but by 1881 had changed careers and become a coal merchant. The family moved to Union Street South and more children came, as well as lodgers. They had six more children in total: Sarah Ann, Betty, Barker, William, Ellen and Fred. Interestingly in 1891, the family were at number 7, and right across the way at number 6 was Sarah’s mother Patience and Sarah’s eldest sister Esther Bentley, still unmarried and supporting her widowed mother. The census gives Patience’s occupation as “an invalid” and Esther no occupation at all, so presumably Sarah and her other siblings were helping to support the pair.

The only child on this stone to be buried here, Barker, had become a slipper maker by 1891 – interesting, because at one point the Ackroyds had a lodger from Ireland who was a shoemaker. Barker married Ellen Potter in 1899 and the pair stayed on Union Street South, even as the rest of the Ackroyds moved along to Brook Street. Barker had by then become a wood sawyer or circular sawyer at a wood mill, and he continued in this occupation for some time. The pair had two children, John and Sarah…familiar names, eh? Barker was, alongside his job at the wood mill, also one of the groundsmen for the Cricket Club, and receives a mention or two in the papers in connection with it.

Sarah Ackroyd fell ill some time after 1911 and in late 1914 she died and was buried here. John wasted no time in remarrying, this time to Ada Pickering in early 1915. But their time together was short, and he died in March 1927. With a name as common as his, it was hard to find mention of him until the end, but his obituary filled in a number of gaps. It turns out John was active with the Oddfellows and had been a lodge member for over 50 years, and his obituary spoke in glowing terms of his energy and enthusiasm. He was well until just before the end, but since his end was at 79, it’s hardly surprising.

Todmorden Advertiser, March 25th 1927

It’s also interesting to see mention of his widow and six children. He and Sarah had been lucky by the definition of the word in those days, and only lost one child. He was buried here with Sarah, which was probably by prior arrangement with Ada. Ada had also been a widow, you see, and she died much later in 1940 and was buried with her first husband and two of their children at 10.23.

Barker and Ellen eventually moved to Cambridge Street and as late as 1939 Barker was still working as a sawyer at the age of 61. He was one of the children active with the Oddfellows and, like all good cricket lovers, continued to work at the club and grounds for as long as he could. He died in 1942 and is mentioned on a sidestone to the front of this grave. As for Ellen? She died in 1972 at the impressive age of 95, and we don’t know where she’s buried.

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